On the picket line

‘No cutbacks,’ say Verizon workers in Northeast

verigreedy_0730Bargaining began June 22 for 38,000 workers in the Verizon East district of the Communication Workers union and of System Council T-6 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The stakes are very high for the Verizon workers in the New England states, New York and New Jersey, who have rightly nicknamed this telecommunications company “Verigreedy.”

This giant banked $9.6 billion in profits in 2014, with $44 million in salaries for its top five executives. Cutbacks would include steep decreases in pension benefits, huge increases in workers’ medical costs, unlimited reassignment of job locations, elimination of job security and expanded outsourcing of jobs — on top of an existing two-tier wage system for new hires.

Though Verizon offered modest wage increases in its last three-year contract, one worker in CWA 1101 told a WW staffer that “the hike in medical costs was so big, it amounted to a wage cut.” The worker also described management’s heightened level of harassment. Verizon’s contract offer would, according to Dennis Trainor, CWA District 1 vice president, at a June 22 rally in Rye, N.Y., “slash thousands of jobs and leave our remaining members with a diminished standard of living.” (standuptoverizopn.com, June 23)

No wonder IBEW locals voted 96 percent on July 17 to call a strike if contract negotiations fail by Aug. 1 when the contract expires. CWA is holding strike votes the week of July 20. The two unions have called a united rally in New York City on July 25.

Solidarity in the labor movement is always needed, especially when the stakes are so high in a struggle affecting so many workers. Steve Gillis, financial secretary of the Boston school bus drivers’ union, United Steelworkers Local 8751, told WW, “The relationship with IBEW 2222 is key to us; they’ve hosted our defense committee in their building for nearly two years now. We go back together to the NYNEX strike in 1989. USW 8751 passed a resolution at our July 16 membership meeting to endorse the rally that Local 2222 called July 30 and voted money to go to their strike fund.” Local 2222 represents over 4,000 workers in the greater Boston area.

United flight attendants’ global day of action

In the five years since Continental Airlines was absorbed by United Airlines in 2010, business has been booming. United’s profits in 2015 are projected to be more than five times higher than in 2013, its operating profit in 2015-17 is expected to be $5 billion or more in each year, and CEO pay has risen 32 percent. However, United’s 24,000 flight attendants are still stuck negotiating for a bigger piece of the pie. That’s why thousands of flight attendants and supporters, organized by the Association of Flight Attendants, a unit in the Communication Workers union, held a day of action in its 16 base locations around the world on July 16. The workers are demanding a unified contract safeguarding terms won by both Continental and United flight attendant unions before the merger.

CWA President Chris Shelton told protesters at Washington Dulles Airport, “Flight attendants are helping United Airlines generate huge profits, making it one of the most profitable [airlines] in the nation. But when it comes contract time, United says no, none for you. What you’re doing today is showing them that you’re not going to be pushed around.” (CWA-union.org, July 16) Contract negotiations continue. Stay tuned.

Farm workers entitled to paid break time

In a unanimous decision, the Washington (state) Supreme Court ruled July 16 that farms paying workers by the amount of produce they pick must provide separate hourly pay for break time. In 2013, some 900 berry pickers at Sakuma Brothers Farms filed a class action suit charging that they were denied paid rest breaks in violation of state law. Sakuma argued that the workers’ piecemeal pay rate factored in pay for break time. According to the court, that scheme “encourages employees to ‘work harder’ by skipping breaks” and effectively shortens break time and frequency.

Sakuma agreed to pay the workers $850,000 in back wages to settle their lost pay claim, and it has since switched to an hourly pay system with time set aside for rest. While the pro-worker ruling may motivate some Washington farms, which employ an estimated 200,000 seasonal workers, to switch from piecemeal pay schemes, it remains to be seen “whether the ruling will actually result in the workers being paid more, or whether companies will simply restructure the way they pay,” noted the July 16 Associated Press.